Delhi's Common Man Party government quits

Saurabh Das/AP - New Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal addresses his supporters with resignation letter in hand at Common Man’s Party headquarters in New Delhi on Feb. 14.

NEW DELHI — Less than two months after a party of anti-corruption activists formed the state government in New Delhi, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal resigned Friday because he failed to introduce a tough new law against graft, which was the centerpiece of his campaign.

After several hours of mayhem and shouting in the Delhi Legislative Assembly on Friday, during which several members first blocked and later voted against the introduction of the contentious Jan Lokpal Bill (the People’s Ombudsman Bill), Kejriwal said his “heart was bitter.”

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“Our opponents joined hands and prevented us from introducing the corruption-removing bill,” Kejriwal said, addressing a huge crowd of supporters who chanted “thieves, thieves” at his party office in New Delhi. “I am a very small man. I did not come here for a chair or position. We are willing to give up power a thousand times for the sake of this anti-corruption law.”

Kejriwal, 45, then held up his resignation letter and his supporters cheered. He said he will recommend to the city’s lieutenant governor that new elections be held soon. But it is not immediately clear how the political situation will develop.

Kejriwal’s one-year-old Common Man Party will now vie in the national elections, which are likely to be held in April and May.

Kejriwal’s opponents accused him of introducing the anti-corruption measure too quickly and without asking the national government’s permission.

Critics have said that Kejriwal’s 49-day government showed that it is not easy for idealistic street activists to transform into successful, stable rulers.

Kejriwal, who played a key role in the massive and unprecedented nationwide uprising against rampant corruption in 2011, formed a political party a year ago and made an impressive debut in the Delhi election in December.

After the brief euphoria that followed the formation of the new party’s government, controversies have dogged Kejriwal almost every day. His government was fragile from the beginning because it did not have a majority in the House, and was propped up by his bitter foe, the Congress party.

Kejriwal was back to protesting on the street because he said he lacked the power to transfer or investigate police officers accused of dereliction of duty. The specter of the newly elected chief minister sleeping on the street and signing official papers from his tiny hatch-back car put off many of his middle-class supporters.

Opposition politicians called him an “anarchist,” “mad,” “Jurassic” and one who loves enacting a new “daily drama.” Another said his government appeared to be “run by school boys.”

During his brief tenure, Kejriwal made many populist decisions. He ordered an audit of alleged irregularities in power companies, and asked the water utility to give free water to the city’s residents. He urged city residents to use their cellphones to record and report officials who demanded bribes.

He also filed a police complaint against India’s richest man, billionaire businessman Mukesh Ambani, and a minister in the national government for allegedly colluding to inflate the price of gas by creating a fake shortage – a charge that Ambani’s office called “baseless.”

“The urban poor seem to identify with Arvind Kejriwal’s dramatic actions; but the middle classes who supported him in the beginning became quickly disenchanted because they don’t like disorder; they prefer PowerPoint revolutions,” said Santosh Desai, a newspaper columnist in New Delhi. “But it could also be argued that constant struggle and protest are the only ways of ensuring change in a political system like ours that is so collusive and moribund. But the way it unfolded leaves you feeling ambivalent.”

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